Second of all, HAPPY PUBLICATION DAY to Charlene Ball! I'm thrilled to be able to help spread the word about this novel, and take part in the Publication Day celebration.
Emilia Bassano has four strikes against her: she is poor, beautiful, female, and intelligent in Elizabethan England. To make matters worse, she comes from a family of secret Jews. When she is raped as a teenager, she knows she probably will not be able to make a good marriage, so she becomes the mistress of a much older nobleman. During this time she falls in love with poet/player William Shakespeare, and they have a brief, passionate relationship--but when the plague comes to England, the nobleman abandons her, leaving her pregnant and without financial security.
In the years that follow, Emilia is forced to make a number of difficult decisions in her efforts to survive, and not all of them turn out well for her. But ultimately, despite the disadvantaged position she was born to, she succeeds in pursuing her dreams of becoming a writer--and even publishes a book of poetry in 1611 that makes a surprisingly modern argument for women's equality.
Overall, I liked really liked this novel. The writing was good, and I liked the author's style. At the beginning, we're introduced to a young Emilia, leaving her ill mother for the first time as she goes off to court to receive a formal education. She comes from a family of court musicians, which is an interesting perspective from which to view Tudor royal life. The story moves in chunks of time within chapters - separated by months and years, so it goes quickly. Very early on we get a disturbing view of what will prove to be one of the sadder themes in Emilia's life - unluckiness and ill-treatment when it comes to men.
There is not much plot to this story (a commonality in historical fiction, since the author is telling the OVERALL story of a historic figure's entire life, as opposed to focusing on a narrower, more dramatic aspect - i.e. strict conflict and resolution). The story spans decades, and the conflict/resolution comes in waves, varying in terms of intensity. Similar problematic themes are found throughout Emilia's life - sexual assault, strained relationships, internal religious turmoil (she comes from a Jewish background, but finds herself pulled towards the Christian faith).
In addition to those moments of conflict, though, are sweeping description's of Emilia's everyday life. She enjoys plays and poetry, and much of her young adult life is spent going to see the newest theatrical production at a playhouse - sometimes even dressing as a man in order to meet her new 'friend', William Shakespeare. She practices her poetry and writing, and is clearly inspired by the most well-known playwrights of the time.
This isn't a feel-good read, as Emilia had a difficult life. Her relationships were not easy, she was judged for being the mistress of, not one, but at least two, men, and she knew quite a lot of sorrow. But, despite the darkness of the whole story, it's good. As Emilia is considered to be a likely candidate for Shakespeare's muse as the 'dark lady' mentioned in his romantic sonnets, her story is certainly one to get to know, if you're a Shakespeare fan (though, be warned: this book may not give you the warm and fuzzies when it comes to him).
For anyone who doesn't know anything about this interesting woman (as I didn't), and who wants an interesting and very different view of the late 16th/early 17th centuries, it's definitely worth the read.
For all my Tudor Enthusiast readers, you can purchase this novel at the following Amazon link and find more information at Charlene's personal website:
Charlene's website: charleneball.com